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Opportunity Cost on Home Improvements

Everyone enjoys a good weekend project. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of taking on a particular do-it-yourself project around the house to make it newer, nicer, and more appealing. It gives us a chance to build our skills and improve our house all in one shot. And, to make our projects even better, we are saving money. Why pay a landscaper to take out redo our front yard’s landscape? That outdated bathroom; no problem, anyone can replace a toilet, sink and cabinets. All these projects cost us is a trip to the local hardware megastore.

But is it really that simple? Are these home improvement projects actually saving us money?

When improving our homes, we always look at the dreaded labor charges found at the bottom of the bill. Each of us convince ourselves that number is simply too high for the work that was completed. We explain to our families that “I” could do the same job as good as the repairman — no, I can do it better than the repairman.

I had a former co-worker who was an extremely intelligent, technical man. His clients loved him, and his co-workers always approached him when they were in a jam. He had a young family and a strong ambition to complete anything that was placed in front him. This diligent man decided to redo a bathroom in his house. He was smart and capable. He certainly could do it. And why not, at the end of his bathroom remodel, he would have a great bathroom for a very reasonable price. I know he was working on this project on his weekends, and after some time, I actually forgot he was doing it. I was reminded when he came to work with a bandage on his hand. He was in the emergency room all night because he cut is hand during the remodel.

I don’t think this was a home improvement that went wrong; it simply illustrates that all there are other costs to these projects that we try to hide from. Let’s look at the career of my former coworker while he was doing his bathroom remodel. More importantly, let’s look at what he wasn’t doing because he was dedicating himself to his remodel. He wasn’t staying at work improving his client skills. All that extra work could have paid off in an earlier promotion or even an increase in salary. That’s a huge opportunity cost, or the cost of passing up the second best choice. Let’s forget about that promotion, but think about his hourly salary. Think about how much time he spent working on that bathroom and pretend he was spending that at work. That time at work and working towards a new promotion.

Opportunity costs are so easy to forget. They are the costs of the next best option that we never took. However, what we pass up should be examined when making choices. Labor costs are expensive, however we are actually paying an expert in that field to do a job we are probably poorly trained to complete. If the do-it-yourself project was given to an expert repairman, each of us could focus on our individual areas of expertise to move ahead our particular career path.

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